Construction has started on the autonomous vehicles ‘pit lane’ facility at RACE.
RACE has partnered with Millbrook Proving Ground (a leading vehicle testing centre based in Bedfordshire) to host trials of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) as part of the Government funded UK testbed programme. The testing of these ‘robot cars’ complements existing robot and drone testing carried out by RACE.
Across the UK, the testing of driverless, robotic cars is mostly carried out on roads not open to the public. Although helpful for putting the vehicles through their paces, they will not need to navigate ‘real life’ scenarios such as pedestrians or cyclists. The advantage of Culham Science Centre therefore is that it is a fenced site with 10km of varied and mixed private roads – as well as more than 2,000 site users – and makes for a unique environment in which controlled testing can take place before driverless vehicles then venture out onto public roads.
The CAV project started in September when the B15 garages situated behind the RACE work hall were demolished. The four new units and dedicated CAV test control centre will be completed by April 2019, and will then be leased to external companies. Each new unit will include office space upstairs to allow technicians to analyse the huge quantities of data generated from the cars. The ground floor will be a hybrid of conventional garage space and high-tech workshop – hence the analogy with the Formula 1 ‘pit lane’ concept.
There will also be a track control centre from where vehicle movements will be monitored. This acts as the hub for a site-wide fibre optic network that will link with dedicated 4G phone masts and wireless units, something which will boost V2x connectivity (the ability of vehicles to communicate with each other) and further enhance the testing capabilities.
RACE’s Lead Technologist Garry Staunton said all driverless vehicles undergoing tests would have a dedicated ‘safety operator’ to ensure the vehicle operates safely and to allow a human driver to take control if something unexpected happens. In addition, the level of access to roads is dependent on developers demonstrating appropriate levels of control. (Progression from RACE’s fenced-off testing area to the main site roads requires vehicles to successfully and safely progress through a tiered set of tests.)
He added: “RACE has 30+ years of developing, testing and operating advanced robotic and remote handling systems on JET, and more recently the experience of working with autonomous vehicle developers such as Oxbotica as part of the DRIVEN project.
“We are drawing on this pool of knowledge and experience and applying it to a growing range of challenges. We invite developers of CAV and other robotic systems to come and talk to us, since we believe RACE is a great place to test robots.”
Picture: Artist impression of ‘Pit Lane’ project